An Orange County Probate Attorney is licensed by the state of California to assist beneficiaries and executors of an estate to settle a decedent’s affairs upon their passing. This type of lawyer, also known as an estate attorney, will handle various aspects of settling an estate in Orange County, depending on various circumstances involved. Some of the factors that affect the extent of the probate attorney’s role include whether the decedent had a will, the value of their assets, and the time that they passed away. Even if there is a will in place, there are times that challenges to the validity of the will arise, and litigation is necessary. When there is no will, potential beneficiaries file legal claims to sue for the portion of the estate that they feel they should receive.

What Does Probate Mean?

The Orange County probate process is one that is supervised by the court and involves authenticating the last will and testament of a decedent when they have written one. To properly execute a will, a person’s assets must be located and their value determined. Once this step is completed, the decedent’s last taxes, debts, and bills must be paid off. The remainder is then distributed to the beneficiaries.

The individual who has possession of the decedent’s will must file it with the probate court in a reasonable amount of time, according to state law. When they file, they must also petition to open probate of the estate. The will, death certificate, and petition can all be filed at the same time. The hearing for this filing is important because there may be a more recent will. This gives everyone involved with the settling of the estate the opportunity to object to the will that is being submitted.

In addition to the possibility of a more recent will, others may object due to the will being drafted improperly. They may even object to the appointment of the executor. If there is an issue with the validity of the will, it is usually determined based on witness testimony. In this situation, courts rely heavily on “self-proving affidavits,” signed by a witness and the decedent at the time the will is drawn up. If these affidavits don’t exist, the court will often turn to sworn statements signed by witnesses who declare that they saw the decedent sign the will in question.

How Can an Attorney Help With Probate?

Two terms help define the role of an attorney as a guide in the probate process. “Testate” means a person passed away with a valid last will and testament to direct the distribution of their assets. “Intestate” refers to an individual who has passed away with no estate plan in place. Orange County Probate Attorneys are able to assist in either one of these situations. At times, situations arise in which a beneficiary doesn’t trust the personal representative handling the execution of a will. At times like this, a probate lawyer can advise beneficiaries on legal matters regarding the distribution of assets. Some situations may arise in which a beneficiary challenges the validity of the decedent’s will. Probate or estate litigators are essential in reaching a suitable resolution to these matters. Some of the primary duties that probate attorneys take on include:

  • Investigating life insurance policies and collecting proceeds
  • Identifying estate assets and securing them for distribution
  • Having a decedent’s real property appraised
  • Ensuring that the debts and bills the individual left behind are paid
  • Preparing documents that the probate court requires and ensuring that they are filed
  • Investigating the existence of estate or inheritance taxes involved with the case and ensuring that they are fully paid
  • Discovering any issue with the decedent’s income taxes and making sure that they are resolved
  • Managing any checking accounts involved with the estate
  • Transferring the decedent’s assets to the appropriate beneficiaries
  • Determining the remainder of assets that need to be distributed to beneficiaries after all debts and bills are paid. Then, ensuring these assets are disbursed according to the decedent’s wishes

Can You Go Through Probate Without an Attorney?

Simple estates may be able to be settled by the executor without an attorney’s assistance, but what seems simple can quickly become complex, especially for someone without legal expertise. Most people find that they benefit from the help of a professional who can offer accurate legal advice. Some of the situations that make it easier to complete the Orange County probate process without an attorney are as such:

  • The estate’s assets are more than enough to cover its debts. If there is plenty of money in the estate to cover the decedent’s debts and still leave something to be distributed to the beneficiaries, you may not need an attorney. Otherwise, it is wise to have legal assistance.
  • There are no legal threats or contests to the will. Many times, family members end up fighting after the loss of a loved one, and there are situations where a will is contested. If there are no issues like this, a lawyer may not be necessary.
  • There are no business matters involved in the estate. Appraising, selling, and managing a business at the time of an owner’s death is a matter that can complicate the probate process. If this is the case, it is wise to retain the services of an Orange County Probate Attorney.
  • “Small estate” procedures are acceptable in specific circumstances. California law allows for summary probate, a simplified process that allows the beneficiaries to receive assets without going through court hearings. This is typically acceptable for estates that are worth only a few hundred thousand dollars.
  • Situations in which a decedent’s assets are able to be transferred without probate. Many assets can be transferred without the influence of probate court, depending on the planning that the decedent did before their death. Estates that are held in joint ownership, living trust, payable-on-death ownership, life insurance, and retirement accounts often fit this situation.

Do You Always Have to Apply for Probate?

Probate is sometimes a time consuming and expensive process, but it is not always necessary. If you are wondering whether probate is necessary to distribute the assets left by a loved one, there are a couple of determiners. A general rule of thumb is that probate is not necessary if the estate is not particularly large or set up to pass outside of probate. Modest estates typically don’t require the assistance of the courts to ensure that they are dispersed according to the decedent’s wishes. In California, if an estate is valued at $150,000 or less, it may not need to go through probate court. However, if there are any complications or disputes, it is still advisable to allow the courts to handle the situation.

If assets, as mentioned above, can be transferred without the intervention of a probate court, it makes the process much simpler. This includes trusts that have been set up for beneficiaries, designated beneficiaries such as those named in life insurance policies, and jointly owned property like that which married couples own together.

If you need a top local lawyer to help you through the Orange County Probate Process, contact an Orange County Probate Attorney at the Law Office of Christopher P. Walker. Reach out to us today at (714) 909-2065 to schedule a free consultation.

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